The Passive-Aggressive Coworker
Wilma, a certified nursing assistant with ten years of experience, has been working at the local county hospital for the past two years. Although she was smiling and seemingly agreeable when instructed by the house supervisor to give the newly admitted patient in room 415 a shower, she purposely failed to complete the task at any time during the 12-hour shift. When confronted by the nursing supervisor, Wilma meekly responded, "I forgot. I'm sorry." The intended purpose of this article is to assist in identifying passive-aggressive behavior.
Most of us have had the unfortunate, bitter experience of working with someone who has displayed passive-aggressive traits. This type of coworker almost always assumes the role of the workplace victim while failing to complete the workload effectively. They always conjure up excuses to explain why something did not get done. Although the passive-aggressive individual might have a smile on his/her face, negativity oozes from every pore on his/her body. In a nutshell, nobody likes to work with this type of person.
Passive-aggressive behavior is a pattern of indirectly expressing negative feelings instead of openly addressing them (Hall-Flavin, 2011). 'Passive-aggressive' is a term that's often used to describe someone who retaliates in a subtle way rather than speaking his mind (Rodriguez, 2011).
There's a disconnect between what a passive-aggressive person says and what he or she does (Hall-Flavin, 2011). So instead of verbally or physically expressing frustration or anger-or even simply saying "no" when asked to complete a task-someone described as passive-aggressive might simply act agreeable but then not follow through with completing the task (Rodriguez, 2011).
Signs and symptoms of passive-aggressive behavior include:
- Purposely forgetting to complete tasks
- Blaming others for one's own personal issues
- Constant whining and sulking
- Purposely procrastinating when asked to so something
- Complaining that all the coworkers are 'out to get me'
- Inefficient, sloppy approach to their work
- Secretly resents those with authority over them
- Sabotaging other peoples' hard work
- Losing important papers on purpose
- Insisting that they are overworked
Passive-aggressive coworkers almost never openly disagree or express their displeasure. However, their actions and behaviors strongly suggest that they are disregarding a demand that has been made of them. Fortunately, a handful of techniques exist for dealing with the passive-aggressive coworker. Here are some rules of thumb for dealing with this type of person:
* Maintain a paper trail. Keep a written record of every conversation you have with them about about 'forgetting' to do what is asked of them. The written record is important because passive-aggressive people will deny that anyone ever talked to them.
* Call the person out on their behavior. Do not permit the coworker to be dishonest and keep 'forgetting' to do things. Question them on why they keep procrastinating, forgetting, or outright failing to do things.
* Maintain your composure. Remain calm when the passive-aggressive coworker whines that things are not going his way. Do not react when the person turfs the blame on someone else. Misery loves company, so do not feed the troll.
* Draw attention to the contrast between what they say and what they do. Explain to the passive-aggressive coworker that you're wondering why they promised to do something but did not keep his/her word.
* Set up clear boundaries. Be straightforward about the type of behavior that you will and will not tolerate. Enforce these boundaries to ensure that the passive-aggressive coworker takes you seriously.
The passive-aggressive coworker is a frustrating challenge for even the most seasoned person. Constantly dealing with someone who routinely does not keep his/her word can seem like an uphill battle. However, clear communication fosters professional relationships between coworkers, so it is important to communicate with the passive-aggressive person on a regular basis. You cannot change the passive-aggressive coworker, but you can change the manner in which they treat you.Last edit by Joe V on Jun 24, '12
About TheCommuter, BSN, RN Senior Moderator
TheCommuter is a moderator of allnurses.com and has varied experiences upon which to draw for her articles. She was an LPN/LVN for more than four years prior to becoming a registered nurse.
TheCommuter has '11' year(s) of experience and specializes in 'Case mgmt., rehab, (CRRN), LTC & psych'. From 'Fort Worth, Texas, USA'; 36 Years Old; Joined Feb '05; Posts: 37,561; Likes: 67,742.Jun 21, '12Hey!!- just because I'm passive-aggressive doesn't mean someone isn't out to get me.
I'm sorry, I couldnt resist.
Great article. our favorite term on the floor is that they purposely try to "sabotage" your work.Jun 21, '12Quote from herasheisI think that every sane person dreads working with a passive-aggressive person. These people play so many mind games and have so many control issues that their silent crazy-making will drive a normal person off the deep end.I dread working with people like this.
The passive-aggressive person is not outwardly controlling. However, the procrastination, 'losing' stuff, and 'forgetting' to do one's work are all modes of passive resistance, which leads to control in the workplace.Jun 21, '12You mean there is a name for this? You have described to a T my former friend/co-worker. We were vey good friends until I got promoted as supervisor, she couldn't seem to separate our friendship from our work relationship. I was hurt because of all people I thought she would be the one to help me out during the transition.
In the beginning things were going fine, but slowly she started using our friendship to create rifts between the other workers. I quickly became aware of this, tried to reason with her to no avail, and it got to the point where I had to make a choice between our friendship, and doing the right thing with my job. After that she continuously walked around sulking, would do sneaky things, and was not very nice to the person she worked directly with, always waited to the last minute to complete things, and sometimes would not complete them at all. it quickly became a toxic work environment. I documented everything we talked about and kept my supervisor up to date with everything. Ultimately he (my supervisor) saw her being very unprofessional, and it cost her her job.
Thank you for writing this article, I will definitely keep the suggestions you gave in mind in the unfortunate event I have to work with someone like that again; which as I have learned the hard way probably will happen.Last edit by atjeRN on Jun 21, '12 : Reason: FormatJun 21, '12the passive aggressive personality is one that i'm quite familiar with during my years in nursing, thank you for sharing this article... aloha~Jun 21, '12I work with the following types:
a man who's hyper and never stops talking; he never says someting once, but a dozen times. And he has a remark about everything. He does do good work. He is enthusiastic.
a woman who promises the moon but the rocket never really takes off; she does half the job, if that; she seems to think that "saying is doing", gets too busy socializing to get the job done; hmm, sounds passive aggressive?
a woman who hates everything and everybody; she is filled with resentment toward bosses and certain groups of people - like RN's;
an assistant who curses and screams if anyone leaves any trash in her area; just throw it out ior ignore it like everyone else does!
those who come to work in order to sleep or disappear in action; those who want to pass meds but are not licensed to do so, those who are always throwing pot lucks and get upset if you don't always want to participate; the ones who want you to approve them taking 50 million smoke breaks each shift while you barely get to pee;
I am so weary of fighting all of them.Jun 21, '12what about the CNA's whose colostomy bags always accidentally come off everytime every time the two of you work together. when your busting your butt at 4am trying toget your peg tube flushes done on 10 residents. and she knows how to put them back on. they stopped coming off when I started making an "accidental" mess putting a new one on.Jun 21, '12I know a nurse that fits this description. And every time that I confront her she plays the victim and complains about having too much work to do...even though she has the same amount of work and sometimes less than the other nurses. And she's always socializing about stupid stuff including having disgusting sexual conversations with the male coworkers. She ALWAYS has to work past her shift because she ALWAYS waits until the last minute to pass meds, check blood sugar levels, charting, and forget about getting an end of shift report from her. People have complained about this woman to management and nothing happens. I'm tired of arguing with her. I wonder why people like this even enter the profession if they hate the job so much. She affects everyone else's work because she always needs "help". Work is so much easier when this woman decides to call off for some fake ailment, which actually happens quite often.Jun 21, '12Here are some more interesting tidbits on the origins of passive-aggressive behaviors. Apparently, these traits originate in early childhood in response to not being able to openly express one's feelings around an overly-controlling parent.
Since the kid cannot directly express anger, he/she learns to express negative feelings in an indirect and subtle manner (for instance, purposeful 'forgetfulness.' Moreover, these maladaptive patterns continue into adulthood.
The roots of passive-aggressive behaviors are mostly ingrained by the 6th birthday. When a child grows up with an overly controlling parent and becomes overly dependent on that parent for decision-making and/or to meet his needs, the child dares not express anger toward the overly controlling parent for fear of rejection or reprisal. Instead, the child will almost certainly learn to express anger toward the parent in typical passive-aggressive ways without knowing he is expressing anger toward that parent.Aug 4, '12What's it called when the are just blatantly controlling? And loud and annoying to everyone around them? When they have to try and micromanage the entire floor even when it's not their responsibility and call in sick alot?Aug 4, '12Quote from IsisCIt sounds as if you're describing an aggressive person.What's it called when the are just blatantly controlling? And loud and annoying to everyone around them? When they have to try and micromanage the entire floor even when it's not their responsibility and call in sick alot?
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